Imagine going back and forth between your office and committee meetings and then meeting people in your office all day when you get back there. It’s an exciting and hectic job, but it’s a job with major benefits: knowing that you are working for the people in your district, serving them, and meeting their needs. Few young people could handle the pressure and have the expertise and knowledge to talk with lobbyists and other groups who want their backing.
The constituents in the 51st District of Illinois are fortunate to have such a representative, Nabeela Syed, who turned 24 in April. Nabeela is one of the youngest representatives and the first Muslim woman to serve in the IL General Assembly. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants who grew up in Palatine and attended public schools. In spite of her age, Nabeela came into the House with recent political experience, including working as a campaign manager for a friend and working for the nonprofit CivicNation as an Assistant Director of Digital Strategy.
On April 20th during the KCDW trip to Springfield, two of us met with Nabeela to ask her views on current issues and her goals as a representative. When we arrived at Nabeela’s office, she was coming back from a meeting, and there were already demands on her time. A lobbyist was there who asked to spend a few minutes talking to her, and she hesitated because we had an appointment with her at that time. We told her to go ahead. Then a group of AARP representatives came by and requested that she pose for a picture with them. They thanked her for working for one of their causes, preventing price gouging and price increases on a popular drug, which many people need to survive.
When we were ushered into Nabeela’s office, she apologized and told us that she had to check her phone about every five minutes to see if the House was back in session. The pharmaceutical bill was up for a vote, and she needed to rush back there as soon as the session started to cast her vote and make sure there were enough Democrats voting to see that it was passed. We were able to get in a few questions before she was called back to the floor by her best friend Anusha, who is her campaign manager.
Our first question was the obvious question that all politicians are asked:
What motivated you to choose a career in politics? Was it one catalyst, or did you grow up wanting to be a politician? Nabeela responded that it was several things. First, it was the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump in 2016 that alarmed and motivated her to represent all the people in her district and give them a voice. She said that the second reason was that she and her high school friend Anusha Thotakura worked on the campaign of a young Black man running for the District 211 School Board in 2021, and she was upset and shocked by the racist attacks on him during the campaign.
After that election, Nabeela took a look at her state representative and decided that her current representative, Chris Bos, was not representing the wishes of the community and that he sidestepped questions he did not want to answer. Nabeela’s mother and her friend Anusha encouraged her to run for Bos’s seat. Nabeela credits her win with knocking on doors (est. 20K) and listening to each person she met. She said that many people told her that they did not feel heard, especially elderly constituents. Her campaign focused on concerns that voters expressed to her: providing affordable healthcare to everyone, lowering property taxes, and advocating for women’s rights.
Our second question relates to her representation of Gen Z voters.
What are the most important issues facing your generation during the challenges of modern times?
Right away, Nabeela responded that it was mental health issues that concerned her the most. She believes that Covid led to some of the mental health problems facing youth today and the high rate of suicide among youth. Many students were home alone while their parents worked, and they felt isolated and cut off from friends. They also fell behind in their schoolwork and had to do extra work the next year to catch up. Nabeela believes that we need more counselors in the schools to address these issues.
Nabeela also stated that there is a cost of living crisis for young people starting a career. Because of the high cost of living and student loans, most young graduates still live at home and cannot afford an apartment or a down payment to buy a house. She is concerned that it may be years before young college graduates can afford to buy a home even though many of their parents were able to purchase homes within a few years of graduating from high school or college. Fortunately, Nabeela serves on committees that deal with issues that can bring economic justice and opportunity to everyone in the community.
Those answers led to our third question.
What committees do you serve on, and what do you hope to accomplish as a representative?
Currently, Nabeela is assigned to Appropriations–Health and Human Services; Child Care Access and Early Childhood; Cities and Villages; Economic Opportunity & Equity; and Prescription Drug Affordability.
Nabeela is concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs and healthcare and whether the elderly can get the prescriptions they need without sacrificing the money they need to buy food or pay utility bills. She supports a ban on high-capacity guns and wants new regulations. She also wants to educate people about organ donation and is supporting a legislator who is trying to get a bill passed. As part of that support, she spoke to the House about her experience donating part of her liver. She shared that it’s important to pass legislation that would provide paid time off for organ donors who need to recuperate from surgery. It’s a nonpartisan issue that people on both sides of the aisle can agree on. Nabeela also believes that there should be comprehensive education about birth control so that young people are not faced with difficult choices.
We had only a few minutes to discuss our last question before Nabeela was called back to the General Assembly by Anusha.
How do you suggest getting young people interested in politics and voting?
Nabeela is currently working on this issue. The first bill that she filed proposes pre-registering 16-year-olds to vote so that when they turn 18, they can vote right away. Nabeela stated that pre-registration causes higher turnout among youth and keeps them engaged.
Our time with this amazing young politician was up. After posing for a quick photo with us, Nabeela hurried back to the House to try to get her legislation passed. She is a rising star in Springfield because her heart is with the people. And she is doing her best to give a voice to all voters in District 51.